In many pockets of south Mumbai, you can see tall towers sprouting up from a landscape of low-flung buildings, like in Girgaum, Tardeo, Napean Sea Road and Worli, to name a few localities.
Governed by three different policies (see box), these new structures threaten to change south Mumbai in fundamental ways.
First, these structures are increasing the population density, traffic and demand for water and other amenities. Second, these structures are not bounded by any aesthetic guidelines, so they don’t blend well with their localities.
“Individual developments, whether by firms constructing one-off high-rises or individuals and trusts renovating heritage buildings, lack direction,” said Pankaj Joshi Joshi, an architect who is the executive director of the city-based think-tank Urban Design Research Institute. “To link the new with the old, we need restrictions on the designs of these structures. Also, we need interventions that take care of the design of peripheral infrastructure like street furniture.”
Any comprehensive plan must tackle two of south Mumbai’s key development challenges: one, the upgradation of the large number of old, crumbling structures in highly congested localities such as Kalbadevi, Mumbadevi and Chira Bazaar; and two, the conservation of the large number of historical buildings.
Experts see flaws in current policies. The policy for redeveloping old buildings applies to each plot and not to entire localities. “Various anomalies are created when gigantic high-rises come up on small plots,” said V K Phatak, an urban planner. “Giving builders extra floor space index as incentive can further congest these area because infrastructure is not being correspondingly enhanced. Cluster redevelopment can be extended to these localities.”
While some entrepreneurs are preserving historical buildings to lend a certain ambience to their enterprises, many more owners of heritage structures are neglecting them until they can be declared dilapidated and then demolished to make way for higher, more modern structures.
“Individual economic compulsions are driving conservation,” said Himanshu Kadam, a city-based conservation researcher. “But state policy needs to drive this.”